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Guest Column: Managing mental health through social unrest, violence and anger

Dr. Shawn Singh Sidhu

RIO RANCHO, N.M. — Our country has undergone a very painful chapter in its history in the past weeks.

Our nation was already struggling with the tragedy that COVID-19 has claimed the lives of more than 100,000 of our people.

Even those indirectly following news cycles and social media may experience emotional distress.

Typical reactions to social unrest include anxiety, sadness and despair. Some individuals may worry that the violence will spread to directly their loved ones, while others may have more existential worries about their communities recovering and the future of our world.

Many will feel sadness to the point of bereavement in the loss of the country they thought they had, or for the families who have lost loved ones. Hopelessness or despair often accompanies intense anxiety and sadness when people feel powerless.

Another typical reaction to social unrest is frustration and irritability, which if left unchecked, can progress to anger, hatred, black-and-white thinking, dehumanization, thoughts of revenge — and ultimately more violence. While it is important to acknowledge these feelings within ourselves, anger and hatred only serve to further divide and ultimately leave everybody involved feeling much worse.

Anger gives people a false sense of control. This is an illusion, as it is very fleeting and perpetuates the cycle of pain and suffering.

We should resist the impulse to choose sides amid a media climate that feeds off polarization. We would do well to remember that pain and suffering affect everyone.

What can we do to improve our emotional well-being during such disturbing times? The most practical thing is to limit exposure to traumatic and provocative media content.

We might need to follow such coverage to ensure our safety, particularly if we are traveling through areas of social unrest. But in other circumstances, it does little good to view media coverage more than once a day.

We should seek neutrally reported news as much as possible to avoid excessive polarization.

It is also very important to find physical outlets for our stress. These could include cardiovascular exercise, weight training, cross training or hikes.

Exercise that includes creative and/or spiritual aspects, such as dance and yoga, could have benefits beyond physical fitness.

Many people will experience insomnia or other sleep-related difficulties. Sleep is critical, as it restores homeostasis and provides a reprieve from the fight-or-flight cycle of stress hormones during difficult times.

You may need to see a medical expert if you can’t sleep using relaxation techniques, warm showers or drinks, or other natural methods. It is also important to continue good nutrition and hydration.

Continue having healthy connections. These human interactions are not only important to a healthy, full life, but they also restore our faith in humanity.

The greatest antidote to a feeling of powerlessness is advocacy. People in our community are suffering.

What are we doing to help them and ensure they do not feel left out and forgotten?

The seeds of this unrest may have been planted centuries ago, yet we can begin planting new seeds of love, resilience, healing, unity and growth. Doing so will help us at an individual level and benefit the world around us.

(Dr. Shawn Singh Sidhu is an associate professor in the UNM Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences.)

 

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